Performing Abergavenny: creating a connected community beyond divisions of class, locality and history

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


This project will examine issues dividing the town and community of Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. In conjunction with two community organisations, we are seeking to create questions that interrogate divisions, begin to overcome them and develop plans for a cohesive 'communal' future. Methods used and findings from the community project will be articulated, analysed and disseminated in public fora and in academic articles.

This project builds upon two AHRC funded projects. First, Walkerdine et al's research in Abergavenny for the Connected Communities Programme, 'Community as micro-sociality' (2011-12) discovered that Abergavenny as a community is geographically disconnected along north/south fault lines, historically related to class and dislocation. Second, and also attached to the AHRC theme, Mackey et al's project 'Challenging concepts of 'liquid' place through performance practices in community contexts' (2011-14) works with community participants and artists to interrogate people's relationship with their place through performance. The divisions in Abergavenny are marked, from the name given to the area ('The Reservation'), to lack of knowledge by south about the north and vice versa, and the difficulties and differences of being and moving through Abergavenny exhibited by both groups. In this context, provision of community support and services is geographically divided, which roughly equates to a class divide. Uniting these two AHRC projects allows us to approach 'community' as micro sociality and performance in an inclusive manner. Together with representatives from the community groups, we will co-create and co-design a project to identify questions which point to a) how the divisions are experienced and have come about b) how they may be overcome to create provision which is welcoming and supportive of both parts of the community c) draw up plans for a sustainable, communal future, identifying connected and integrated support for community in the light of funding cuts and in spite of historical divisions.
This is the agreed starting point and 'hook' for the project. It has been devised through discussion within the steering group as background activity towards this proposal since July. The steering group includes representatives from the two community partners, Communities First North Abergavenny and Abergavenny Community Centre (south Abergavenny) as well as the three research team members and will be joined, in phase two, by members of the local council.
Using a synthesis of arts, humanities and social science methods, the steering group are considering a series of site based performance events influenced by historical research to initially uncover the history of division within the town, as told by local residents. This knowledge will lead us to formulate specific questions for phase 2 about, for example, the context, history and current understanding of the town's divisions. These will form the basis for activities in the second phase which we anticipate will enquire more closely into these divisions, begin to ameliorate the situation and lead to developing longer term plans for conjoined resources and communal living - to be shared with local council and government. Because the methods of research have already been discussed in pre-project steering group meetings, we are likely to use primarily performative methods including, for example, walking and mapping techniques, as well as site-based community performance work.
What is potentially of great benefit to communities - and researchers - is the question of how to develop a methodology coupling a series of techniques and modes of enquiry, capable of creating inclusive self-directional research by communal members, as well as being underpinned by an alternative, holistic arts based approach to community.

Planned Impact

Because of the open nature of this call where the precise nature of the research will be identified during Phase 1, certain beneficiaries below are unconfirmed until the end of Phase 1 e.g. local businesses.

Key beneficiaries:
1. The two community organisations of Abergavenny and their residents will benefit directly from this research, which aims to address their particular concerns and needs around town divisions and future cohesions. The development of an effective local governance will have actively involved its citizens and is significant for enhancing the quality of life of local populations.

In addition, we anticipate the following:
2. Because the research addresses significant issues concerning community cohesion and the needs of divided communities in times of austerity, local - and potentially national - government will benefit from accumulated knowledge gathered for them.
3.Community groups will benefit from engaging in research, which they co-create and co-design. It is expected that through working as research partners in this project they will gain experience and knowledge in research methods for future practice in working with, for example, local government and applying for funding.
4.Potentially, local businesses will be involved with Phase 2 of the research project. It is expected that businesses could learn, therefore, from a greater understanding of how residents see and engage with them and so understand how businesses might be sensitive to and responsive to the wishes of local communities with respect to the organisation of space and geography.
5.The research can contribute to the 'nation's health' by understanding complex affective and emotional aspects of the central experience of relationality, belonging and the place of, and its embodiment through, performance.
6. The engagement of performance in the research helps involve a wide cross section of the community in the work and develops the skills of community organisations to work with performance. This use of performance helps reach the general public in a popular way, which allows a wide range of citizens to feel included.
7. The project team will gain invaluable interdisciplinary understanding, benefitting researchers and populace alike.

The local impacts should be relatively fast but it will take longer for them to reach a national and international audience. The website, database and support from Cardiff University PR will facilitate wider popular dissemination.


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Studdert D community and sociology in sociological review
Studdert D Microsociality and Community in sociologcial review
Walkerdine V Microsociality, community and austerity in Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference
Title 500 miles 
Description A short video in which a specially adapted version of the Proclaimers' 500 miles was performed by a number of local residents and businesses in the streets of Abergavenny. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The Youtube version went viral, reaching a very large number of people across several countries. 
Title Abergavenny Voices 
Description An evening at the local Abergavenny theatre in which voices less often heard were represented. The evening included material by or about marginalised young people, care home residents, night workers. A young improvising group also created material about community/council relations and and performed a local veriosn of 'Mock the Abergavenny week'. A film created of local people singinging a specially adapted '500 miles' was screened. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Very good press coverage and feedback from a broad range of local residents. 
Title documentary 
Description A 20 minute documentary outlining the achievements of the Performing Abergavenny project 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact It was very well received at the AHRC Connected Communities Festival Cardiff and is being distributed to Welsh agencies and local authorities. 
Title facebook 
Description Forgotten Abergavenny was a phenominally successful public Facebook page, which successfully brought together may local residents and those within an association with Abergavenny acorss many countries and continents. It approached local history as an aspect of community building, using artifacts such as photographs posted to the site. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The site was exceptionally successful, judging by the numbers of posts and reach of the site. Some material went viral and provided a very interesting model for how to develop community involvement in a digital way. 
Title mural 
Description A community mural was erected on a remaining wall of a now demolished outdoor pool in Abergavenny. The mural was designed by a local artist and was painted by local residents. It was unveiled at a community festival in the park by the leader of the local council. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Large participation by a very diverse group of residents and big newspaper write-up and a lot of praise and interest. 
Title pool day 
Description Picnic at the Pool was a community festival on the site of a much missed local outdoor pool. Local people were invited to bring their own picnic and free picnics were provided via a local housing association. The festival included performances by local actors, competitions and inflatable paddling pools filled by the local fire brigade. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The festival was a huge success bringing many people to the park. An ad hoc committee decided to keep the festival as a yearly event and run it themselves. 
Title street theatre 
Description The project Performing Abergavenny used street performance with three local actors in role as a novel way of eleciting the views of local residents about their hopes for the town and their relations with local councils. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Provided a really solid basis for understanding the views of the town in a fun way which helped to launch the project as it was performed on a saturday in the twon centre. 
Title treasure hunt 
Description A treasure hunt was a way of creating a town trail bringing out relatively little known aspects of the town Abergavenny in a fun way. The aim was to provide a popular form of performance of the town by walking around it and spotting clues. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The treasure hunt was well covered by local press and the result was a town trail presented to the town council for future use. 
Title up the estate 
Description Up the Estate was a musical created by the residents of the North Abergavenny Estate and told the story of the creation and history of the estate via the story of a ficional family. It contained specially created music and featured local young people, amateur and profesisonal actors and a local choir. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Filled the local theatre with people who do not normally attend a theatre. Had a huge impact on the estate, in the town and with local councillors in giving a different view of what the estate and its people means within the town. 
Title wall hanging 
Description A local south Abergavenny community group created a wall hanging by bringing together local artists and local people - the aim was to hang the wall hanging in the entrance to a new community centre that they had been pushing for. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The artwork was presented to the town at a town meeting in 2013. 
Description We discovered how to enhance communal cohesion using arts and humanities, bringing together a community divided by history, geography and class. In particular, co-design co-creation proved a very important develoment in the research and ensured that people were involved in the research and its outcomes in a very committed way, that also made the research exciting and fun. The methodological impact of the approach should not be underestimated.
Exploitation Route 1.Development of the co-production method to community development and cohesions
2.Specific use in relation to community arts and the use of community arts in working with disadvantaged communities.
3.Central importance of new approach to researching community in the field of community research.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Description The findings have been important for developing new approaches to community cohgesion and development and for engaging with community arts, as well as having considerable impact in the field of community research.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services
Description Connected Communities
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 02/2012 
End 01/2013
Title micro-sociality 
Description Using micro-sociality as a research tool for exploring how human interaction creates community 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - human 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This was presented at a seminar in 2014 for Sociological Review. This method was subsequently explored by several academic authors writing for a special issue of Sociological Rveiw under the editorship of Studdert and Walkerdine. 
Title micro-sociality 
Description Micro-sociality is an approach to understanding human ineraction and interrelationality in relation to the creation and maintenance of community. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Other academics have since taken this up and referred to it in their won writings, for publication in Sociological Review - a special issue edited by Studdert and Walkerdine 
Description artworks cymru 
Organisation ArtWorks Cymru
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution They have asked us to evaluate their programme
Collaborator Contribution They have provided a programme for us to evaluate
Impact this whole category seems not correct for this partnership
Start Year 2014